The undisputed King of Soukous, Congolese musician Tabu Ley Rochereau, died of stroke on November 30, 2013 in Belgium at the age of 73. He was a prolific songwriter and one of Africa's leading vocalists who internationalised Soukous by creating a fusion of Congolese folk music and Cuban, Caribbean and Latin American rumba.
Reacting to the news of his death, radio producer and DJ Minna Zhou remembered how Tabu Ley experimented with diverse music styles, which includes incorporating Jimi Hendrix's guitar techniques and producing a cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” in Lingala, a language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Throughout his 50-plus-year-long career, Tabu Ley never stopped innovating and keeping himself open to sounds from around the world. In the same 1993 interview cited above, he spoke of changing the more intellectual, refined feel of L’African Jazz to create something that could appeal more readily to the masses. In 1972 after a tour of Senegal, he came back with a new rhythm for rumba called “Soum djoum,” which some say was inspired by Soumbedioune, Dakar’s largest fish market. When Jimi Hendrix approached the man in London as a fan of Dr. Nico, they exchanged musical ideas, which led Tabu Ley to incorporate some of Hendrix’s guitar techniques into Afrisa International. He made a Lingala cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be”. He experimented with synths as a stand-in for likembe [a thumb piano, which is also known as Mbira]. He also created a hugely successful back-up dancer group “Les Rocherettes,” which included the sensual and honey-voiced Mbilia Bel who became an integral part of the Afrisa International [Tabu Ley's band] sound.
Below is a YouTube video of one of his greatest hits titled “Muzina”:
It was only in 2008 that the King of Soukous moved to Paris where his family had immigrated years prior. He sought his family’s support and medical help for the stroke from which he would never truly recover. As if prescient, the twin capitals Kinshasa and Brazzaville held a months-long tribute to Tabu Ley just last year in 2012. The DRC’s Chancellor of National Orders honored the living legend with two gold medals — one for civic merit and the other for his deep cultural contributions to Congolese arts, sciences, and humanities. In November of 2013, he was admitted to l’Hôpital Saint-Luc in Brussels, where he spent his last days.
Kenyan blogger Ken Opalo wrote the following after hearing the news of Tabu Ley's death:
The Rhumba legend Tabu Ley has passed on. For Kenyans of my generation his songs are a reminder of a childhood marked by our parents’ great love of Congolese music (dominated by Tabu Ley and Franco Luambo Makiadi). Back then Kinshasa seemed like the most fun place on the planet (and probably is/was, as I have never been) and a bustling centre of cultural production. We didn’t know what the songs were about, but we knew the lyrics (or what we imagined them to be). I particularly grew to love “Muzina.”
On Twitter, Zichivhu pointed out that the only major Western media that covered his death was France24:
The only major Western news network to carry the death of #TabuLey was France24…we Africans really do need our own “AlJazeera”. *sigh*
— Zichivhu (@Zichivhu) December 1, 2013
Activist and founder of activist @SavetheCongo, Vava Tampa wrote:
— Vava Tampa (@VavaTampa) December 1, 2013
Naomi Mutua described why Tabu Ley is a legend:
— Naomi Mutua (@AKenyanGirl) November 30, 2013
Below is a YouTube video of King of Congolese rumba Tabu Ley and Congolese singer M'bilia Bel, known herself as the Queen of Congolese rumba, singing “Shauri Yako”:
ĔĎ ђØŦĔҎ reported that Tabu Ley has a son who is a rapper:
— ĔĎ ђØŦĔҎ (@EdOG_Azaza) January 15, 2012
Kenyan artist Suzanna Owiyo mourned:
Africa has lost a true legend in the music fraternity. #Tabuley‘s music inspired many both young & old.We will dearly miss you.May you RIP
— Suzanna Owiyo (@SuzannaOwiyo) December 3, 2013
funk of 40k years noted:
— funk of 40k years (@antwoman1) December 1, 2013